New Delhi: No concrete evidence of sexual harassment has been found against Wrestling Federation of India (WFI) chief Brij Bhushan Sharan Singh, who was accused of exploitation by the country’s top wrestlers, report said. In an unprecedented move, top achievers such as Vinesh Phogat, Bajrang Punia and Sakshi Malik staged a sit-in protest at Delhi’s Jantar Mantar in January and accused the WFI boss of sexual exploitation and intimidation.
The wrestlers had demanded that WFI be disbanded and its president be removed. The Sports Ministry had formed a five-member oversight committee, headed by legendary boxer MC Mary Kom, on January 23 and asked it to submit its findings in one month. Later, it extended the deadline by two weeks and also added Babita Phogat to the probe panel as its sixth member on the insistence of the protesting wrestlers. The committee submitted its report in the first week of April but the ministry is yet to make its findings public. However, multiple sources confirmed that the wrestlers could not prove the sexual harassment allegations against the WFI boss after several hearings.
‘The wrestlers could not prove their sexual harassment allegations. During the probe, it was alleged that one female physio (name withheld) was asked by Brij Bhushan to give him massage to treat his back pain last year in Bulgaria during a competition. However, during the hearing, the same physio denied any such happening’, a source told PTI on Thursday. ‘Instead, she revealed that all Brij Bhushan wanted was a pain killer for headache and when she offered one, and was accompanied by a female coach at that time, the WFI boss even refused to take tablet ‘disprin’. It was male coach Anil who had actually helped Brij Bhushan’.
As per reports, Vinesh and Sakshi have submitted written affidavits to the IOA probe panel, which is investigating into the allegations separately, but ended up submitting wrong information. ‘In her affidavit, Vinesh claimed that Brij Bhushan touched her inappropriately in Turkey in 2015. However, later it was found that Vinesh had not competed in Turkey that year. Later she said it actually happened in 2016 and in Mongolia. Sakshi in her affidavit wrote that Brij Bhushan hugged her in 2015. Brij Bhushan sensed her discomfort and said that he hugged her like a father’.
According to another source, a few former female wrestlers said that Brij Bhushan asked for their numbers but when asked if he ever called them, they replied in the negative. ‘They said Brij Bhushah clicked pictures with them with his hands on their shoulders but could not produce those pictures when demanded by the panel’, the source said. Not only Brij Bhushan but a few coaches also faced allegations. One such coach was Greco Roman trainer Mahabir Prasad. The Droncharya awardee was asked by the panel why he visited Vinesh’s home after her debacle in the Tokyo Olympics. To which he replied that he wanted to say a few motivating words because he felt that the top wrestler was going through a tough period.
Vinesh had made a shock first round exit from the Olympics and was later suspended by WFI for indiscipline. She had revealed that she was suffering from depression and was struggling badly to cope with the situation. ‘Mahabir replied that he was not alone when he paid a visit to Vinesh. He was accompanied with a coach and a journalist, so there was no question of having any ill will in him meeting Vinesh’, said a source.
It has also been learnt that two SAI officials had gone to the Sonepat centre, where the training camp for male wrestlers is held, to ‘extract’ adverse statement from the coaches against Brij Bhushan. ‘When an oversight committee was probing the matter, what the SAI officials were doing there at Sonepat SAI centre. Even a relative of one of members of the committee was also there. How did SAI centre allow that relative inside the SAI complex? He was not part of the camp’, said the source. Calls to SAI officials, including Director General Sandip Pradhan, went unanswered.